Hip, hyped and hopeful, Terence Trent D’arby has recently soared into the public eye with his distinct looks and voice. But there is even more to this self-styled soul singer than meets the eye and ear. as Alastair Mabbott discovered.
Any new artist with enough record company support can expect a fair amount ofattention. but the publicity achieved by a certain 25 year-old black singer. before his first single had even been released. was truly remarkable. Shock waves ran through the grapevine after a few appearances in London clubs. rumours of a new singer with the best and most soulful voice for years. as seductive as Al Green. as gritty as Bobby Womack. But nobody knew where he'd come from. It was all smelling very like a hype. Others in the past have been put forward as the crown princes of British black music; Junior Giscombe. for instance. and the only way he could get into the charts was by duetting with Kim Wilde. Hype. definitely.
But it wasn‘t. as viewers of The Tube saw one night in February when. caught up in the excitement surrounding this new discovery. Paula Yates beat her personal record for superlatives as she introduced Terence Trent D‘arby to an expectant nation. In the few short minutes that followed. the young black singer showed that the rumours had been right all along. Not only did he have a great voice. talent. instinct and wrote all his own songs. but he was stunning to look at as well; androgynously good looking. lean and fit. and with braided hair that flicked across his large eyes when he danced. The Tube invited him back the next week. And the next.
As the Terence Trent D'arby phenomenon grew and grew. his first single. ‘If You Let Me Stay' steamed up to Number Seven in the charts. A brassy. finger-popping dance-floor number with a great call-and- response chorus and D‘arby‘s golden larynx pleading and hollering at the front ofthe mix. it was a great debut. Certainly a decisive moment in the history ofblack music in Britain. But Terence Trent D‘arby (he added the apostrophe himslf) wasn‘t homegrown at all. but born in Manhattan. New York.
The eldest child ofsix. in a strict
Pentecostal family. Terence had the classic background ofa soul singer. torn between the sacred and the secular. His father an evangelical preacher and his mother a gospel singer herself. the young Terence was forced into singing gospel in the church at an early age. a style he now finds it hard to get excited about. The rigid doctrines of his church meant that listening to any other forms of music was strictly banned. Frustration with his musical diet led him to snatch secret moments with the radio. devouring everything that wasn ’1 gospel. from Tchaikovsky to Hank Williams. His eclecticism has borne fruit. his current recordings all being refreshingly different. unhampered by one particular style. ‘I couldn‘t afford to be fussy.’ he says now. ‘because I was afraid ofgetting caught.‘ His attitude is delightfully non-purist. ‘I do like a lot ofold country and western. old blues. but it‘s my because I‘m a purist. it's because it‘s very honest music. [just
like good music. whether it’s T-Rex orT-Bone Burnett.‘
A neat piece ofalliteration. that. Whether he had that one up his sleeve. or invented it on the spot. there‘s no doubting that Terence is good with words. He was a journalist once. one of many phases he's been through. until he found ‘it was easier to chat up girls as a pop star than a journalist‘. Indeed. a recurring image of him in the press oflate has been that ofa man wanting to impress. wanting to put across the fact that he is intelligent and articulate. Not so far removed from the kid at school who wanted to be accepted. wanted to prove himself;
Despite the restrictions on his listening. Terence recalls. ‘my family life was okay. it was my peer pressure that wasn‘t happening. bcause I was different to the other kids in a lot ofways. I was ostracised. There were a lot of things I couldn't do because of the parents I had. who were strictly religious. And I was not black enough for the black kids. not white enough for the white kids. And lwas the smallest. tiniest person in
my class until I started to grow.‘
The search for self-respect led Terence into boxing. something that surprised him he was good at. Becoming a Golden Gloves champion. he forgot about college. feeling that only the army could give him the discipline he needed to make it to the top. Leaving home. he was able to free himself from the shackles of his religion ('As soon as I left home I didn't set foot in the church again‘). and consequently stopped singing. he was posted to Germany. fittingly. in Elvis Presley‘s old regiment. and slowly the realisation crept up on him that he‘d made a big mistake. The army was ‘horrible. the worst days of my life‘ and he was losing his taste for hurting people in the boxing ring (and becoming worried about being hurt as well). Then he heard that a German- English band called The Touch were looking for a singer. Terence went AWOL and joined them. Facing a five-year sentence. he found a clever lawyer and got off. The Touch were offered a recording contract by the AriolaxArista label. Terence went AWOL again. but this time from the band. He had decided that Terence Trent D‘arby was to be a solo singer. and that was that.
I‘d been warned that I was going to be interviewing a man ofgreat arrogance (which so far hadn‘t
Interest in mysticism
surfaced). so I suggest tactfully that the decision to go solo must have taken some confidence. His reply is even-tempered and eminently reasonable.
‘It wasn‘t so much confidence as necessity. l was starting to really grow as a performer and as a songwriter. and in production. things like that. and the band resented that. as l was probably going faster than they were. exceeding their expectations.‘
With his new found manager KP. Terence headed for Britain and found himself at home at last. Most people I’ve spoken to about you. I tell him. think you’re British. and he takes it as a compliment. He hasn‘t too many kind words to say about the land of his birth. and though a buzz is
starting to happen in the States. and plans are being made to tour there. he asserts emphatically. ‘I don‘t live in the States. I live here. I live in Europe. that's where I want to concentrate.‘ His parents. these days living in Florida. are proud of him. he says. though they don‘t quite approve of the well-publicised criticisms of his homeland. and Terence admits that he thinks they still rather he‘d become a minister.
But there‘s little chance of that. Terence has developed a pronounced interest in mysticism. following five distinct brushes with death in his life time. Three car crashes (one of which he slept through). a near-fatal drowning accident when he was 13. and an incident as a child when the towbar ofa truck fell on him would be enough to make anyone superstitious. I imagine. but that‘s not how Terence sees it.
‘No — on the contrary. it‘s made me more reckless.‘
‘Reckless. There's probably a reason I have to stick around. something l have to accomplish. It's just not my time to go. I believe I won‘t go until I've accomplished what I‘m meant to accomplish on this earth.‘
‘Real mu51c exnsts'
Aha. Well. a glance at the promotional material tells us what Terence wants to achieve before he casts off this mortal coil: ‘to compose the definitive bridge. make one brilliant LP and die before I get bored. hopefully owing a lot of money in taxes.‘
The LP. entitledlmrmlut‘ng The Hard/wex’leeording To 'l'erenee Treer D'arhy is released on 13 July. I don‘t know about the definitive bridge. or the taxes. but I feel like probing Terence a bit about the album. Is it more of a danceable record or a srnoochy one. D'arby'.’ Let us know.
‘Ilow can you ask me that‘.’ The difference between the first and second singles should be enough to give you the indication that I don‘t play safe.‘
The second single is ‘Wishing Well‘.climbingthechartsat " this moment. a slinkier. more moody single than its predecessor. Reflectingonits well- integrated mix ofstyles but undeniable R&B (American. that is- we‘re not talkingJohn Mayall or Dr Feelgood) feel. I make my first big mistake and ask if he feels an affinity with mix-and-match master Prince. The answer is three heavy clunks from the other end ofthe line. 'I‘m afraid there must be something wrong with the phone.‘ replies
4 The List 10 — 23 July